Colin Brazier: The UK Government is not to blame for migrant death tragedy

Today’s tragedy is already being weaponised by those for whom there is only one answer to the question of what to do about migrants crossing the channel

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We don’t yet know the full horrifying details of what happened in the Channel today, what may still be going on in fact, but the headlines are stark and depressing. More than 30 migrants have perished, drowned in the icy, late November, waters of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

We may never know their names or nationalities, not least because many of these desperate souls destroy any documentation that might subsequently identify them to Britain’s hard-pressed immigration authorities.

But we do know where the blame lies. Those in the first circle of this hellish story are the people smugglers. The criminals, who are part of an international network that sells an idea of easy access to the West. They prey on people who want a better life, often drawn by a diaspora that has already settled in Britain and with whom they are in regular contact.

The people smugglers are the villains of this piece. They ought to be reviled. But, because we will never find out who they are, what they look like, where they live; they will escape the vitriol that is about to be directed - in their absence - at others.

The traffickers deserve the lion’s share of the blame, but the French authorities are culpable too. Only this week they rejected a British offer to send officers from the UK to help patrol French beaches. Paris has recently seemed happy for the land around Calais and Dunkirk to become a marshalling yard for people smugglers.

Our Home Secretary has told the French that the easier they make it to get to Britain, the more migrants will come. For whatever reason - some think even as punishment for Brexit - the French have ignored the logic of Priti Patel's argument and, in doing so, have shown criminal neglect.

But today’s tragedy is already being weaponised by those for whom there is only one answer to the question of what to do about migrants crossing the channel – to legalise their journeys, to legitimise what hitherto has been outlawed. And to leverage the emotive events of today for ideological advantage.

And so it is tonight that we have a succession of lobby groups, NGOs and politically aligned charities lining up - not to blame the smuggling gangs or even French inertia - but to lambast the British government.

For instance, Detention Action said: “…it is this Government's failures that have allowed this current crisis”.

No, no, no. It is the venality of people smugglers and the indifference of the French that have brought us today’s body count.

Another NGO, this time the Refugee Council, offered this analysis:

“Every day, people are forced to flee their home through no fault of their own. Now is the time to end the cruel and ineffective tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country.”

Safety in our country? If there’s one thing that’s become clear in recent years, it is that many of those who come to Britain illegally, have done so by travelling through countries where they could, if they wished, claim asylum and find safety.

But already organisations which effectively champion open borders say this tragedy should make the Government scrap new legislation which, though imperfect, offers half a chance of stemming the current record-breaking flow of migrants.

Care4Calais tweeted: “On behalf of those who have died, we again urge the Government to scrap its anti-refugee bill and introduce a fair, modern system now.

"For humanity's sake. Please."

These organisations are run by people who have a laudable desire to help their fellow human beings. But they are now behaving as if the government hadn’t spent the last year warning that what’s happened today – would happen. They mustn’t be allowed to shift blame from where it ought to be heaped most forcefully.

It’s virtually impossible, legally, to hold the people smugglers to account for what’s happened in the Channel today. It’s almost as impossible, diplomatically, to make the French shoulder their share of authorship of this tragedy.

It’s easier to blame those we know. Easier, but not fair. This government has made mistakes over immigration. Many mistakes. But most of those mistakes were sins of omission, not commission. If we’d been tougher, not softer, we might have deterred the reckless actions of people who were duped into thinking they could safely reach the country of their dreams. Tonight, as their life-less bodies are being hauled from the Channel, we should resist the lazy assumptions of those who think that any death can be nobody's fault but ours.